David Burzillo, BHP Teacher
Massachusetts, USA

origin-story-book
Origin Story, by David Christian

Note from the BHP Team: Each of the three classroom activities below, all created by BHP teacher Dave Burzillo, references chapter 12 of David Christian’s new book, Origin Story. We’ve made the entire chapter available for free to current and prospective BHP teachers. Download here.

1. Poster Activity: The Modern Revolution and the Future
Activity Overview: In this activity students make a poster illustrating their thinking about one of the trends discussed in the Investigation 9 documents.

Activity: Have you ever been frustrated by a weather prediction that turned out to be wrong? Weather forecasters are operating on very small scales of time, typically hours or days, but there are so many variables involved in weather prediction, precision is very difficult to come by. When it comes to predicting the future of humans, the Earth, or the Universe, forecasters face even greater challenges.

In Origin Story, David Christian comments: “Speculating on what comes next takes us into the terrifying, unpredictable but perhaps Utopian world of the middle future. At this scale, our models are really guesses. Their chances of being right are about as great as nineteenth-century pictures of aristocrats in checkered suits riding bicycles on the moon. The best we can do is run through a list of some possibilities based on trends we can already see.” (p. 301)

In this activity, you will create a poster to illustrate a prediction of the future and the factors that might influence its proving correct or incorrect.

Activity Steps:

  1. In the Unit 9 Investigation you evaluated to what extent the Modern Revolution was a positive force. Go back and review the Investigation 9 documents. Note that each document talks about the impact of a specific trend on humans in the modern world. Pick one of these trends to focus on (population, urban growth, literacy, inventions, vaccines and disease, spread of democracy, wars, carbon dioxide levels).
  2. Study the data provided in the document and create a hypothesis about the future of that trend. Given the data that you are given, what do you think the future of that trend will look like? Write a short explanation of why you believe the data in the document supports your hypothesis.
  3. Describe some of the future developments that could prevent your hypothesis from proving correct. Describe some of the current conditions that would need to remain the same for your hypothesis to prove true.
  4. Make a poster to illustrate your hypothesis. Your poster should include:
    • The graph or chart from the Investigation 9 document you chose.
    • A clear explanation of your hypothesis.
    • A short explanation of why the data in the document supports your hypothesis.
    • A brief explanation of at least three future developments that could change the trend and prevent your hypothesis from being proved correct.
    • A brief explanation of the current conditions that would need to remain the same for your hypothesis to prove true.

2. Journal Activity
Activity Overview: Students write a journal to respond to David Christian’s comments about the future of the modern scientific origin story.

Activity: You have been thinking about the future of humans, the Earth, and the Universe in this unit. The modern scientific origin story told in the Big History course is based on the best available evidence from many disciplines. But how long will it continue to be considered true? Will it need to be revised or discarded at some point in the future?

In Origin Story, David Christian asks: “Will new science transform our understanding of ourselves and the universe, turning today’s origin story inside out? Comparing today’s origin stories with those of one hundred years ago suggests that this could happen very soon, and many times.” (p. 302)

Please respond to the following prompt in your journal: What do you think about the future of the modern scientific origin story? What is the likelihood that in a few hundred years the modern scientific origin story will need to be significantly revised or discarded? What kinds of new evidence or new technologies would cause such changes to be made?

2. Journal Activity #2
Activity Overview: Students write a journal to respond to David Christian’s comments about the future of the modern scientific origin story.

Activity: You have been thinking about the future of humans, the Earth, and the Universe. The origin story told in the Big History course is based on the best available evidence from many disciplines.

In Origin Story, David Christian asks: “Will new science transform our understanding of ourselves and the universe, turning today’s origin story inside out? Comparing today’s origin stories with those of one hundred years ago suggests that this could happen very soon, and many times.” (p. 302)

What do you think?

Activity Steps:

  1. Please review the “Modern Scientific” origin story and any other two other origin stories of your choice from Lesson 1.2. As you review, think about the differences and similarities between the stories.
  2. In your journal, list three important ways that the modern scientific story is different from the two earlier origin stories.
  3. In your journal list any similarities that you see between the stories.
  4. After making and reviewing your lists, please respond to the following questions: How different is the modern scientific the origin story told in Big History from earlier origin stories? What are the most important reasons, in your opinion, for these differences?

About the author: Dave Burzillo has taught for over 30 years, more than 25 of them at his current school, a private high school in Weston, MA. For the last 7 years, he has taught BHP to ninth-, eleventh-, and twelfth-graders. His school runs on a trimester system, which gives him about 90 days to cover 13.8 billion years of history in each class. He has 12-16 students in each class. Recently, Dave began offering an online BHP course in the summer.

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